There were about three minutes to go in the district tournament game at Wapato that was Wahluke High School’s last chance to qualify for the boys 1A state tournament.
Granger was leading by at least 20 points. The outcome was decided. So I turned to see how the Warrior faithful were reacting to the tough ending to what had been a brilliant season.
They were a picture of sportsmanship. Not only did they stay to the end; they cheered positive plays and favorable referees’ calls as if their boys still had a chance to win.
The only time Warrior fans booed was when the scorekeeper credited Granger with a three-pointer Wahluke had made. Even then it was only to bring attention the scoreboard.
It became comical. In trying to fix the score, the scorekeeper added to Granger’s total again. More boos. It was eventually fixed, and everybody had a laugh.
It had been a really tough night for the Warriors. One of the big three scorers for the team, Ricky Cabrera, couldn’t play because of a concussion he suffered in a semifinal game against LaSalle. He had averaged 10 points a game throughout the season and was a tough defender.
For some unknown reason, the fast break offense and tight defense that had led to a 17-3 record and the SCAC East championship weren’t as effective at districts as they had been all season.
If you were looking for a reason as to why this game was lost, it’s probably this: The players worked too hard, tried to do too much, tried to play beyond their limits.
The Warriors fastbreaked when the fastbreak wasn’t there. They tried to make shots that weren’t open. They tried to drive through gaps that were too narrow. Passes were intercepted, the ball was kneed or kicked out of bounds. And shots that went in all year just wouldn’t drop.
Coach Clayton Buck mentioned all the turnovers after the game. But he didn’t rant about them. He couldn’t. His boys had given full effort, perhaps too much effort.
That was why the fans, about 800, stayed to the end. They were showing their boys their appreciation for a season of numerous thrills. A school which rarely won at anything in the last 10 years had an 18-5 basketball team and a league champion.
After the final buzzer, and while the players were shaking hands with the Spartans and walking off the court, Wahluke fans gave their team a standing ovation. It was impressive, all of them standing and clapping their hands.
As I walked to the locker room about 10 minutes later, I feared it would be would be a sad place with many a long face. But as I approached the door to walk in, a loud applause went up.
Although a bit sad, the boys were bringing their spirits back up. They were already talking about next year. Seniors were saying farewell to the underclassmen and wishing them another good year in 2017-18.
In just two seasons, Buck, a second-year coach, had brought Wahluke to the doorstep of the state tournament. Next season should be another good one. Two of the three team leaders will return. The third one, coach’s son and senior Nathan Buck – likely at college somewhere – will know he had a hand in building what is happening at Wahluke.
I knew who Clayton Buck was when the season started. I didn’t know who Nathan Buck (13 ppg), junior Sergio Pineda (20 ppg), or the junior Cabrera were.
Buck will be missed. Besides scoring, he performed all other basketball skills extremely well. And he had an uncanny vision of the entire court. He made the key rebound or the key assist several times. It will take some searching to replace his steady, consistent play.
I will start the next basketball season with full knowledge of Pineda and Cabrera and others on the team who contributed this year. And I will start the season eager to watch the Warriors play.
This team meant a lot to its community. Even though the final prize was not attained, parents and fans enjoyed a championship ride. There was something special to see and do on snowy winter Friday or Saturday night in Mattawa.